Perfect Surfaces – Geraldine McCarthy

On Saturday morning, Pam cleans the mixing-bowl at the kitchen sink while buns cook in the oven. She’s wearing rubber gloves to protect her nails. Only had them done the previous day, and they’re €30 a pop.

She’s volunteered to bake for a local coffee morning, in aid of some orphanage in South America.

The fairy cakes will take fifteen minutes. Two dozen should be enough; twelve plain and twelve with cherries. She wipes down the already spotless marble worktops, takes out the cakes, and has a quick coffee while they cool on a wire tray. The aroma of vanilla wafts through the kitchen.

Upstairs, she opts for skinny jeans, and a new baby-pink top. Her face is a little flushed from the heat of the oven, so she applies foundation, and then a little eye-shadow and lip gloss. The neighbours are all so glam, with their highlights and lowlights, their clothes always this season’s.

Fairy cakes in boxes on the back seat, Pam drives to the community centre. The Audi glides along like a dream. She’s glad she traded up this year.

Once inside, she makes sure to hand over the baking to Audrey, the head of the committee, who pecks Pam’s cheek and thanks her profusely from a cloud of Chanel No. 5. Audrey persuades Pam to stay for a cuppa, so they sit down in the far corner of the room, away from the hub-bub at other tables. Deep in conversation about the Tidy Towns contest, Pam feels a tap on her shoulder. She twirls on her chair.

Her mother. Grey roots and crumpled cardigan.

Pam’s stomach clenches. “Mam!” she says. “How did you get here?”

“Diane next door brought me,” her mother says, “thought I could do with a break.” She raises an eyebrow. “There’s only so many kitten videos you can watch on YouTube.”

Pam glances at Audrey, who averts her eyes, and nibbles her bun like a bird at a feeder.

Pam addresses her mother. “Oh, well, you know I’d have collected you, but I thought you were watching your weight, that you’d have no interest.”

Her mother twists her wedding band around her finger, as if she’s strangling a turkey. “Hmm.”

“Well, I can drop you back later.”

Her mother purses her lips. “Sure, if I came with Diane I can go home with her.”

Pam feels her face redden. “Well, I’ll call tomorrow morning then. Is there anything you need?”

“Not a bit,” her mother says. “Diane is beckoning me over. See you tomorrow.”

Audrey finishes her bun. “Well, I must mingle. Thanks so much for all your hard work, Pam.”

“Not a bother, Audrey. I’ll see you Monday night for picking up the litter. The group is meeting at the church, isn’t it?”

“Yes, see you then.”

As Pam drives home, she notices the varnish has chipped.  She’ll go to the nail bar next week for a repair job. They look so nice when they’re freshly done.


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Geraldine McCarthy lives in West Cork, Ireland.  She writes short stories, flash fiction and poetry.  Her work has been published in various journals, both on-line and in print.

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